Workplace etiquette in the US for internationals

Jun 21, 2024

US Shortcuts

Discovering new employment opportunities in America can be an exciting milestone in your career, although it has its fair share of challenges. You need to know the various workplace etiquette in the US to familiarize yourself with the different working environments you may encounter when moving. Not only does it allow you to get along with your workmates more easily, but also prepares you for career growth and respect among your colleagues. 

This article will help you understand the different etiquette inside the workplace you need to know for your smooth transition.

Punctuality and Time Management

Knowing the importance of punctuality and time management is essential for anyone working in the US. These practices reflect your professionalism and significantly impact your colleagues' perception of you. Here are some things to consider:

Importance of Being on Time

In the US workspace, being punctual is very much welcomed across all industries. Being on time shows respect for others' time and commitment to your responsibilities. This applies to:

  • Meetings: Arriving on time for a meeting shows you are prepared and respectful of everyone’s schedule.
  • Deadlines: Meeting deadlines consistently reflects reliability, dedication, and how you maximize your time.

Tips

  • If you’re running late to a virtual meeting, let the meeting host know that you’ll be late and inform how long you’ll be delayed.
  • If the circumstances force you to not attend, inform immediately so your colleagues can proceed with the meeting without wasting too much time.

Expectations Around Working Hours

Work schedules in the US can be different, but there are expectations applicable for all:

  • Standard Hours: If you work in an office, the typical workday runs from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. If your office starts work at 9, it’s expected that you have to be ready for work by 9 or earlier. Being consistently late will have a poor reflection on your part.
  • Overtime: While overtime is sometimes expected, especially in demanding roles, it’s important to manage yourself without compromising your work-life balance.

Comparison to Other Countries

Time management can be different across different countries and cultures. If the US emphasizes punctuality and even though overtimes are expected, there is still an importance of work-life balance. Meanwhile in India, long working hours have been prevalent, which makes working beyond 9-5 uncommon because of heavy workloads and demanding deadlines.

Communication Styles

Learning communication styles is important for international workers to thrive in the US workplace. Americans value direct, clear, and concise communication, which may differ significantly from practices in other countries. Here's a detailed breakdown to help you navigate and adapt:

Direct and Clear Communication

In the US, effective communication is characterized by getting straight to the point and being clear. This means:

  • Expressing Opinions: You are encouraged to openly share your ideas and opinions, even if they’re different from others. 
  • Opinions Must Have Solutions: One good tip to remember is that your opinions have to be solution-focused. For instance, it’s not enough to just point out the problem, it’s better you also include a solution on how to fix or improve something.
  • Giving Feedback: Constructive feedback is always appreciated and often given directly to help you learn and improve performance.
  • Requesting Information: When you need information or assistance, asking directly is seen as efficient and respectful of everyone's time.
  • Timely Responses: Make sure that you reply promptly to colleagues, this shows your attentiveness and interest in the situation at hand. But remember, this applies if you’re working full-time and in a similar time zone. This differs if you’re a freelancer, on-shift work, or working with teams from different countries.
  • Email Replies: Remember to reply with your direct team in a chat within an hour. If it’s an email or chat outside your direct team, you can reply within a few hours. For external vendors, it varies, but usually it goes within 1 to 2 days.

Importance of Active Participation

Active participation during meetings and team discussions is highly appreciated by your peers. This involves:

  • Engaging in Discussions: Share your thoughts and ideas during meetings and brainstorming sessions.
  • Asking Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions if you need clarification or more information.

Use of First Names and Informal Greetings

In some cases, the US workplace tends to be less formal than many other cultures. You might notice:

  • First Names: It’s common to address colleagues and even superiors by their first names only.
  • Casual Greetings: Informal greetings like "Hi" or "Hello" are normal, and small talk is often used to build rapport with your colleagues.

Comparison to Other Countries

In some countries, like India, communication follows a strict hierarchy, and deference to superiors is expected. In the US, the communication hierarchy is often flatter. Moreover, some countries like the UK prefer indirect communication to avoid confrontation. In contrast, Americans appreciate directness and clear articulation of thoughts.

Proper Meeting Etiquette

Meetings are commonly done in US offices for colleagues and team members to brainstorm and formulate strategies and solutions for the company. Understanding the proper way of handling these meetings will go a long way in gaining your supervisor’s trust and ensuring a productive meeting.

Tips for In-person Meetings

  • Devices Must be Silent: Remember to silence your phone and laptop so others don’t hear alert notifications to avoid any distractions while others are presenting.
  • Double-check Notifications: If you’re the one making a presentation and sharing it to others, be sure to mute your notifications so that they don’t appear on screen.
  • Be Prepared: Before making a presentation, be sure that you’re fully prepared for any situation or question to be thrown at you. Study every detail covered and leave a great impression on your colleagues if your presentation is a success.
  • Active Participation: If you want to ask questions in meetings with less than 8 people, it’s typically fine to jump into the conversation without raising your hand. But if it’s a large meeting with more than 20 people, you should raise your hand and wait to be called upon.

Etiquette for Virtual Meetings

  • Stable Internet: Ensure you’re in a room with a stable internet connection to avoid low-quality calls or constant disconnections during the meeting.
  • Virtual Background: Select a virtual background that is professional-looking. Don’t choose backgrounds that are distracting or too colorful.
  • Keep the Mic Muted: When you’re not speaking for a long time, it’s always good practice to keep yourself muted to avoid any background noise.

Scheduling Meetings

Sometimes you’ll be given the task to set schedules for your meetings, whether it may be virtual or face-to-face. Here are some tips that can help you out:

  • Sending Calendar Meeting Invites: The proper etiquette is to include a clear subject line, the room number (if in-person), meeting link (if virtual), or phone number.
  • Give Accurate Details: You have to send a meeting invite with an accurate estimate as to when the meeting will end. If you only need 30 minutes, book the meeting for 30 minutes only.

Workplace Attire

Knowing the expectations around professional attire is important for making a good impression and fitting in seamlessly in the US workplace. Different industries and places may have varying dress codes, but some general guidelines can help you get familiarized with everything the moment you arrive.

Differences in Dress Codes Across Industries

Dress codes can vary significantly depending on the type of industry you work in:

  • Corporate and Finance: These require formal business attire, including suits and ties for men, and suits or professional dresses for women.
  • Tech and Creative Industries: They often have a more relaxed dress code, leaning towards business casual or casual attire.
  • Healthcare and Service Industries: This requires uniforms or specific dress codes to ensure safety and hygiene. With some attires made specifically for that particular job.

Helpful Tips on Dressing for Success

Your attire can make an impact on how you are perceived in the workplace. Here are some useful tips to make sure you always look your best:

  • Keep It Clean and Neat: Make sure your clothes are clean, ironed, and free of wrinkles or stains.
  • Accessorize Appropriately: Use accessories to add a personal touch but avoid going overboard, being too flashy, or distracting.
  • Comfort is Key: Choose attire that is comfortable for you and allows you to perform your job effectively.

Working in Shared Spaces vs. Individual Offices

As the modern workplace evolves and improves, you may find yourself working in various environments, from open-plan offices to individual cubicles. Each setup has its own set of etiquette rules to ensure a harmonious and productive workspace.

Shared Spaces (Open Offices, Co-Working Spaces)

  • Noise Levels: Keep your voice down during phone calls and conversations. Use headphones if you’re listening to music or watching videos.
  • Personal Space: Be mindful of others' personal space and avoid intruding on their desks or work areas.
  • Common Areas: Clean up after using shared spaces like conference rooms, break rooms, and lounges.
  • Interruptions: Respect others' focus time by not interrupting them unnecessarily. Use messaging tools to ask permission if they are available.

Individual Offices

  • Privacy: Make sure to knock before entering someone's office and respect their need for privacy.
  • Meetings: Schedule meetings in advance rather than dropping by unannounced.
  • Decorations: Personalize your space, keep it professional, and avoid excessive clutter.
  • Noise: Keep noise levels low to avoid disturbing colleagues in nearby offices.

Useful Tips You Should Remember

These are some tips you need to keep in mind when you’re working inside either shared office spaces or even individual offices:

  • Set Boundaries: Use visual cues like headphones to signal when you are concentrating.
  • Organize: Keep your workspace tidy and organized to maintain a professional image.
  • Flexibility: Adapt your working style to fit the environment and respect the shared norms.

Proper Personal Care in the Workplace

Maintaining good personal care and hygiene is important for creating a pleasant, clean, and respectful work environment. Here are some essential tips:

When Using the Company Kitchen

If your office has its company kitchen, it is necessary to remember these tips to ensure a clean workplace while giving a good impression to your colleagues:

  • Clean Up: Always clean up after yourself, including washing dishes and wiping down surfaces.
  • Labeling: Label your food items and respect others' belongings.
  • Shared Resources: Handle resources (e.g., coffee machine, microwave) with care and leave them clean.

Foods to Avoid Bringing to the Office

  • Strong-Smelling Foods: Avoid foods with strong odors like fish or certain spices that can linger and disturb colleagues, especially those who are sensitive to spice.
  • Allergenic Foods: Be mindful of common allergens (e.g., peanuts, prawns) and avoid bringing them if colleagues have allergies.

General Hygiene and Personal Care Tips

  • Workspace Cleanliness: Keep your desk clean and organized. Dispose of trash regularly.
  • Personal Grooming: Maintain a neat and professional appearance, including regular grooming and appropriate attire.
  • Respecting Communal Areas: Be considerate in shared spaces like restrooms, break rooms, and lounges.

As an international worker, getting to know workplace etiquette in the US can be rewarding if you get the hang of it. Understanding these key aspects like being on time, wearing the correct attire, properly greeting your colleagues, how to work in different office settings, and more will get you a long way toward reaching your career goals while in the US. Fully embracing these will help you create a great work ethic, a healthy working environment, and earn the trust and respect of your workmates. Fulfill your American dream and welcome to your successful employment journey in the US!

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